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Supporting Civil Rights for Atheists and the Separation of Church and State
by Madalyn Murray O'Hair
Charles Watts was born in Bristol, England, on February 27, 1835. He belonged, with his family, to the Methodist church until he was sixteen years of age. He early showed his intellectual bend, being only nine when he became a member of a debating class and a short time later an elocutionary society. He gave his first lecture at the age of fourteen.
At age sixteen he left home and headed for London where he came into the company of Charles Southwell and other freethinkers. He quickly became a deist.
For several years he worked in his brother's printing office in London, becoming adept at the printing trade. In 1859, when he was twenty-four years old, he met Charles Bradlaugh and formed a friendship which lasted for years. The next year he became assistant editor of the National Reformer.
In 1864, he and his brother John formed a printing business known as Watts & Co.
In 1866, he declared himself to be an Atheist. Three years later he was elected special lecturer of the National Secular Society in which office he continued until June 1876. During those ten years he delivered several hundred lectures in England, Wales, and Scotland on theological, social, and political subjects. He also met in debate all of the leading exponents of the Christian faith in those nations. When he resigned in 1876 it was to take over the offices of editor, printer, and publisher of the National Reformer, which took all of his time. In 1877 he acquired the Secular Review from George Jacob Holyoake. His own publications were primarily pamphlets on secularism, the Bible, the monarchy, and Republicanism. He also became joint editor with Bradlaugh of the National Society's Almanac and coeditor of the Freethinker's Text Book. In this work, Watts contributed \The History of Freethought,\ which was the first systematic survey of the kind. This compilation was later published separately, undated, under the title of Freethought: its Rise, Progress and Triumph.
Watts first came to the United States to lecture in 1882. It was reported of him that he was the first English Freethinker \to cross the Atlantic and mount the American Freethought platform.\ He dropped down from Canada in November 1886 to attend the Congress of the American Secular Union held in New York City. Robert Ingersoll, of course, was in attendance there
Watts visited Canada in 1882 and lectured before the Toronto Secular Society. He was promptly invited to take up residence there. He returned to England to make the necessary arrangements for bringing his family to Canada. He moved to Canada in 1883 and led the Secularist movement in that country. The Freethinkers of Canada also existed and held a successful convention in Toronto in September of 1888. It was in this year that the Canadian government, however, refused to charter the Secular Thought Publishing Company. But Watt managed to get out his Canadian publication — Secular Thoughts. Based in Toronto, he frequently came to the United States to lecture, where he was always a welcome guest. He returned to England in 1891 and became associated with George Foote on the Freethinker, as well as on the Secularist platform. By 1894 Watts was regularly sending the Truth Seeker a weekly column contribution titled, \Freethought and Secular Notes from England.\ In his July column of that year, he noted that on June 25, the statue to Charles Bradlaugh was unveiled at Northampton in London, in the presence of a vast crowd of over 20,000 admirers.
In 1896 Watts again visited the United States in company with George Foote. From a celebration and reception in New York, they went to Toronto for the convention of the Canadian Secular Union, to Chicago to attend the congress of the American Secular Union, to New Rochelle, New York, to visit the Paine monument, and went on to speak in Washington and Philadelphia. In his later years he cooperated with the Rationalist Press. The 1896 visit lasted from October 22 to December 15. In 1899 he again visited the United States in the early part of the year, but suffered a nervous breakdown and returned to England in April.
Watts' wife, Kate Eunice, accompanied him wherever he went, and was \a delightful contributor to the social entertainments of Freethought\ with her fine elocutionary powers. She also wrote several pamphlets, most notably, \The Education and Position of Woman\ and \Reasons for Not Accepting Christianity.\ Watts died on February 16, 1906, in England. After his death, his son Charles Albert Watts founded and superintended the steady growth of the Rational Press Association.
(Read Christianity: Its Nature and Influence on Civilisation, by Charles Watts)
Bennett, D. M. The World's Sages, Thinkers and Reformers, being biographical sketches of leading philosophers, teachers, skeptics, innovators, founders of new schools of thought, eminent scientists, etc. New York: The Truth Seeker Company, 1876.
Macdonald, George E. Fifty Years of Freethought, Being the story of The Truth Seeker, with the natural history of its third editor. New York: The Truth Seeker Company, 1931.
McCabe, Joseph. A Rationalist Encyclopaedia, A book of reference on religion, philosophy, ethics, and science. London: Watts & Co., 1948
Putman, Samuel P. 400 Years of Freethought. New York: The Truth Seeker Company, 1894.
Robertson, J. M. A History of Freethought in the Nineteenth Century. London: Watts & Co., 1929.
Robertson, J. M. A Short History of Freethought. Ancient and Modern. London: Watts & Co., 1914.